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Leaflet No. 245 . . . United States Department of Agriculture 

Palpating Domestic Rabbits 
to Determine Pregnancy 

By Allen E. Suitor, Biological Aid. U. 8. Rabbit Experiment Station, Font ana, 
Calif.. Bureau of Animal Industry, Agricultural Research Administration 

RABBIT BREEDERS have long felt a need for an accurate method 
for determining pregnancy in domestic rabbits. This would 
make it possible to feed the pregnant and nonpregnant does properly 
and to rebreed promptly those does that fail to conceive. Such a pro- 
cedure would save feed and the labor of supplying unnecessary nest 

The common practice of "test mating" does (placing the doe in 
the buck's hutch periodically to determine whether or not she has con- 
ceived )_ is not satisfactory, owing to the fact that some does will accept 
service when pregnant and others will refuse to mate when they are 
not pregnant. Diagnosing pregnancy by noting the development of 
the abdominal region and the doe'- gam in flesh as the period of gesta- 
tion advances i- not dependable and the diagnosis cannot be made until 
late in the period. 

Palpation Method 

Palpating (feeling the developing young in the horns of the uterus 
with the thumb and ringers) is a quick and accurate method :'<>r de- 
termining pregnancy. The method for restraining the doe for pal- 
pating is illustrated on page 1. The ears and a fold of -kin oxer the 
shoulder- are held in the right hand: the left hand is placed under the 
body between the hind leg- and slightly in front of the pelvis; the 



thumb is placed on the right side and the fingers on the left side of the 
horns of the uterus for palpating the embryos. 

It is very necessary that the doe be handled gently and that she 
should not struggle while being palpated because, if the abdominal 
muscles are tense, it will be difficult to distinguish the horns of the 
uterus and the developing embryos from the other organs. The doe 
may be palpated in her own hutch or, if more convenient, she may be 
placed on a table covered with feed sacks to prevent slipping. 

Time of Palpating Important 

The rabbit breeder can develop the technique for accurately diag- 
nosing pregnancy by palpating 14 to 16 days following mating. At 
this period, the embryos in the horns of the uterus have developed into 
marble-shaped forms that are easy to distinguish as they slip between 
the thumb and fingers when the hand is gently moved forward and 
backward and a slight pressure is exerted. Caution must be used in this 
operation, because if too much pressure is exerted, the tissues may be 
bruised or torn loose from the walls of the uterus and a toxic condition 
or abortion may result. 

There is less danger in palpating at 14 to 16 days than at a later 
period. However, diagnosing pregnancy after the 16th day of the ges- 
tation period is more complicated because the developing embryos 
are so large that they may be confused with the digestive organs. 
There is also less danger of bruising the tissues or causing the embryos 
to be torn loose from the walls of the uterus at the 14- to 16-day period. 
The inexperienced rabbit owner should make examinations at this 
period and then as he develops the technique and attains confidence 
in the operation, he may be able to develop the ability for diagnosing 
pregnancy accurately as early as the Tth or 8th day. The chief ad- 
vantage to be derived from palpating as early as the 7th or 8th day 
would be in the case of the breeder selling bred does. When it is 

Figure 1. — Specimens (the digestive tract removed) showing the relative loca- 
tion and size of the horns of the uterus of a nonpregnant doe (left) and the em- 
bryos in the horns of the uterus of a doe at the end of 10 days' pregnancy 


desirable to ship bred does considerable distance, diagnosing preg- 
nancy at this early date makes it possible to have these does arrive 
at their destination in sufficient time to become settled and acquainted 
with their new environment, with the minimum risk of complications 
at kindling. 

In palpating a doe to determine pregnancy, the operator must take 
into account the relative size and location of the horns of the uterus 
and the embryos as pregnancy advances. Figure 1 illustrates the com- 
parative size of the horns of the uterus of the nonpregnant doe (left), 
the horns of the uterus lying just in front of the pelvis, and those of a 
doe at the end of 10 days' pregnancy. The horns of the uterus have 
expanded to accommodate the developing embryos. 

As the period of gestation advances, the embryos grow larger and 
the horns of the uterus are pushed forward, as indicated in figure 2. 

Figure 2. — Specimens with the digestive tract removed, showing the relative loca- 
tion and side of the horns of the uterus and the developing embryos of a doc 
at the end of 14 days' pregnancy (left) and of a doe at the end of 21 days' 
pregnancy (right). 

Figure 3 illustrates the continual increase in size of the horns of the 
uterus and the embryos as pregnancy advances. The ruler at the bottom 
of the illustration gives a means for arriving at a comparative estimate 
of the size of the embryos. In each case, an embryo has been removed 
from the respective horn of the uterus and placed just above the ruler. 
The 10-day embryo was so small that is does not show in the cut. By 
comparing the 1-t- and 21-day specimens it will be seen that the growth 
of the embryo is very rapid. 

Appearance of the Nonpregnant Doe 

If, on palpating, no embryos are found to be present, the doe has 
failed to conceive. If she is in proper physical condition, she may be 
taken immediately to the buck's hutch for mating and then fed a ration 
that is suitable in quantity and quality for a dry doe until a later test 
demonstrates that she has conceived. In the ease of a doe of a medium- 


— 12 

4 — 

7 8 

FIGURE 3. — Horns of the uteri from three does showing uterine and embryonic 
development of 10-, 14-, and 21-day pregnancies respectively. 

weight breed, palpating 14 to 16 days after mating will save 6 to 8 
pounds of feed that would otherwise have been consumed if she had 
been allowed to go the full gestation period of 31 to 32 days before 
rebreeding. The doe that is pregnant can be placed immediately on 
a ration that is best suited for properly conditioning pregnant does. 

It would be a good practice for the inexperienced person to palpate 
again a week later the does that have been diagnosed as nonpregnant. 
If a mistake has been made at the first handling the doe may then be 
given the nest box at the proper time if she is due to kindle. 

In palpating the doe at as early as the 7th to 8th days following 
mating, one must make sure that he is not confusing pellet -shaped fecal 
material in the large intestine with the small embryos in the horns of 
the uterus. Confusion can be avoided by remembering that the horns 
of the uterus lie at the bottom of the abdominal cavity while the large 
intestine is at the top. 

As the breeder becomes proficient in palpating and becomes ac- 
quainted with the anatomy of the abdominal cavity, lie will also acquire 
the ability to identify retained fetuses, abscesses or cysts on the gener- 
ative or intestinal tract, inflamed or congested horns of the uterus, and 
impaction of the cecum. Being able to diagnose these cases in this 
manner will make it possible for the breeder to cull and dispose of the 
does that will not breed, thereby saving feed and labor, and in infectious 
cases remove individuals that may spread diseases in the herd. 

Washington, D. C. 


December 1946 

1NG OFFICE: 1946